Over the years, we've had plenty of stories concerning the liability of websites when users post defamatory or libelous content. The law (section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) is pretty clear, keeping site owners free of liability for the actions of their users. However, as yet another such case comes to light, this time in California, it seems like many people misunderstand why the law is written this way. That article has a typical quote from someone who doesn't seem to understand why the law is written this way, saying: "While protection to ferret out the truth is nice, I kind of wish the courts or Congress would revisit this law. It bothers me to run content online that is clearly defamatory but to get to say it's OK because we can't get sued. It's like a legal neener-neener." That statement is wrong. The law does not say "it's OK." What it does is make it clear who is liable: the individual who actually made the defamatory statements. That's all it's saying. It doesn't make sense for the owner of the site to be liable, since they are not the ones who are making the libelous statements. They may be easier to target and easier to sue, but they aren't the ones who made the statement, and thus, they should not be liable. So, this isn't a case where the law is "different" because "it's the internet" or where one side gets a free pass. The law simply clarifies that the liability for libel should be on those who actually made the libelous statement.
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